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Coronavirus sleuth outlines his ‘Apollo program’

Trevor Bedford, an epidemiologist at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, has outlined a three-part strategy for knocking down the coronavirus outbreak. (Fred Hutch Photo)

A Seattle epidemiologist who warned about the threat posed by novel coronavirus when it was a novelty now says he sees a path to stopping the pandemic.

But it’ll take more than just staying at home for a couple of weeks, Trevor Bedford of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center said today in a series of tweets.

“This is the Apollo program of our times,” Bedford wrote.

Bedford, who analyzed genetic data to figure out that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus had been spreading stealthily in the U.S. for six weeks, began with the standard advice on social distancing.

Although social distancing can “flatten the curve,” a recently published study found that the strategy isn’t likely to bring an end to the outbreak by itself. There’s a good chance that the outbreak would rebound once the restrictions were relaxed.

The study, led by researchers at Imperial College London, concluded that stringent social distancing would have to be maintained until a vaccine is developed – which could take 18 months or more. And the financial cost of maintaining the strategy that long may be unacceptably steep.

“This is the catch-22 as presented by the report,” Bedford tweeted.

Is there a way out? “I have hope that we can solve this thing by doing traditional shoe leather epidemiology of case finding and isolation, but at scale, using modern technology,” Bedford said.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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